We’ve all been there, you’re trying to solder some ridiculously small SMD part and just can not see what you’re soldering. Well fortunately for the hobbyist on a budget there are a good number of affordable digital microscopes available from China. They can be had at anywhere from $15-300 dollars depending on features and quality meaning there is something for every level.
On top of being reasonably priced they also have varied set of features like integrated LCD screens, video recording, and adjustable lighting. These microscopes are highly useful tools and make a nice addition to the workbench.
Are they worth the price
If you have specific applications in mind, yes they are well worth the price. Otherwise like any other tool if you don’t have a use for it then don’t get one. For the person looking to start or add onto their electronics lab depending on the microscope these can actually be one of the lower cost tools to own.
Can a Chinese microscope be used for soldering?
Yes! These microscopes are good for soldering and working with small surface mount components, even those with a very fine pitch. With a little bit of practice and a fine solder tip hand soldering small components is achievable and hot air reworking is even easier.
Camera quality on a Chinese microscope
Generally camera quality on a Chinese made digital microscope is decent but it does vary depending on the cost of the unit. Quality ranges anywhere from 2MP (640×480) on some of the cheapest USB microscopes and up to 12MP (1920×1080) on the more expensive microscopes. Anything with a built in screen has little to no latency while something like a USB microscope can have considerable lag depending on the unit.
For all but the cheapest microscopes that have video recording capability quality is either 720p or 1080p. This is good for recording a soldering session or for later transferring to your computer for analysis on a larger screen.
If you want to take an image rather than a video the image size is going to depend on the megapixel rating rather than the video resolution. For example a 3MP and 12MP microscope both display 1080p video but image resolution on the 12MP is over triple that of the 3MP microscope.
A higher image quality also gives a clearer image when you use digital zoom.
USB microscope vs Standalone Digital Microscope
The main differences between the two types of microscopes are video latency and camera quality. Cheaper USB microscopes are basically glorified webcams with a zoom lens so video quality is lower and latency is higher. Latency and image quality is better on standalone digital microscopes because they use higher quality parts and don’t have to stream video over USB.
Low video latency always makes soldering through the microscope easier.
Metal vs Plastic Microscope Stand
When it comes to a metal vs plastic stand metal wins 100% of the time. Most plastic bases use a suction cup which is unreliable and leaves little room to do work. A metal stand is more stable due to the heavier base and allows the microscope to be raised higher. The larger distance between microscope and object makes it easier to solder because there is more work area.
Other uses for a Chinese digital microscope
Inspecting solder joints
Solder joints can be notoriously difficult to inspect getting harder the smaller the part is. With a Chinese digital microscope solder joints can more easily be inspected for bridging, cracked solder joints, and lifted pads even at very small pitches like 0.5mm.
Having a microscope is a necessity when it comes to cellphone repair. A professional that repairs small electronics like cellphones is likely to have a more expensive microscope, but that doesn’t mean a cheaper alternative can’t be used. Most are adequate enough for the person looking to repair small electronics like cellphones and tablets.
Reading small component IDs
A digital microscope is handy when reading part numbers on an small IC or tiny passive component. Whether you’re just needing to read something small or trying to figure out what that Chinese IC with the scratched off part number is, these are useful tools for the job.
People with vision problems
These are also useful tools for people with bad eyesight that are looking to start or continue working with electronics. Soldering and general tinkering becomes easier when things can be magnified on a reasonably large LCD.
Does a Chinese Digital Microscope make a good bench tool
For anyone serious about electronics these make an excellent tool to have on the bench. They take up only a small amount of space and have a multiple of uses.
Screen size and quality
Models with built in displays have a screen size of anywhere from 3-5 inches. Generic Chinese LCDs are used with these microscopes and while they’re not expensive top of the line screens they do work fine for viewing. To get a better/larger image consider using the HDMI out and viewing on a larger monitor (if the model allows it).
Digital microscope outputs
- microSD: Videos and images can be saved to a microSD card on models that support it.
- HDMI: On models that support it video can be output over HDMI to a larger screen
- USB: Cheaper models must be connected to a computer for viewing video